BEIJING (BP)--More than 20 members of a Beijing illegal church were arrested May 29 as they tried to gather for an outdoor service in what was the eighth straight week of public confrontation between the congregation and the Chinese government.
Police arrested at least 22 members of Shouwang Church, which has been trying to meet outdoors after the government forced members from their indoor facility. Many more likely would have been arrested had police not placed most of the members under house arrest since Friday, preventing them from even leaving their house. The church has nearly 1,000 members. Twenty-one of the members were released by midnight, and the final one released the next day. All the church's leaders have been under house arrest for weeks, and some members have lost their jobs and been forced from their homes as the government pressures employers and landlords.
"After eight outdoor worship services, we may feel tired and may sometimes unconsciously become lax in our spirits and actions," the church said in a statement published on the website of ChinaAid, an organization that monitors religious freedom. "Therefore, in this continuing fight, we need all the more pray for our alertness, support each other, encourage each other and press forward with the extra strength and power given by the Lord."
The dispute -- the church calls it a "spiritual fight" -- has put China's crackdown on religious freedom in the world spotlight. It also shows no signs of slowing down. More than 160 were arrested the first week Shouwang tried to meet outdoors, about 50 were arrested the second week, approximately 40 on the third week, about 30 on the fourth week, 13 the fifth week, 20 the sixth week and 25 the seventh week.
In China, only churches registered with the government who are members of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement are considered legal. But registration brings heavy restrictions, including prohibitions on evangelism, Sunday School and baptizing children and teens, said Bob Fu, president and founder of ChinaAid, which has been covering Shouwang's stance.
The church also acknowledged in its statement that some members were battling internally with whether to defy the government.
"Thank God that by respectfully seeking guidance from the faithful Creator, many brothers and sisters triumphed over their weakness," the statement said. "It is just like what He has told us that if the faith does not meet challenges, we may never know ourselves. Without tests, one's faith can hardly grow."
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.
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